Second of an eight-part series
The players listed in each team report below are not signed for the 2011 season. Because of the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement between NFL players and owners, it is not yet known how many accrued years of service will be necessary to qualify for free agency and, thus, what type of free agent a player would be. After a player's name, we show his years of NFL service (including 2010), which will determine his free-agent type. It is likely that any player with six years or more of NFL experience will qualify for unrestricted free agency in 2011. However, it is possible that five years, or even four (as was the case in 2009 and before), will be enough to become unrestricted. Players with three years of experience are likely to continue to be restricted free agents, as well as those players with more experience but who fall short of the new CBA cutoff for unrestricted free agency.
Potential FAs: DE Mark Anderson (5), OLB Kevin Bentley (9), OG Mike Brisiel (3), DT Tim Bulman (4), OT Rashad Butler (5), DT Shaun Cody (6), TE Owen Daniels (5), OLB Zach Diles (4), WR Jacoby Jones (4), FB Vonta Leach (7), QB Matt Leinart (5), CB Karl Paymah (6), S Bernard Pollard (5), OG Kasey Studdard (4), P Matt Turk (15), RB Derrick Ward (7).
Analysis: The Texans were very quiet in free agency a season ago. Should they miss the playoffs yet again or make nary an impact on the postseason proceedings, it will be interesting to see if they move aggressively to address needs, especially on defense. Of their own free agents, re-signing Daniels could be the top priority, but he has struggled with a hamstring injury this season and has suffered three serious knee injuries in his career. Jones has flashed potential but has never quite put it all together. Could he draw interest from another club wanting to take a shot on a wideout not lacking for talent? Pollard was a difference maker on the back end of the defense a year ago but has regressed in his second season in Houston. He could be back, but he hasn't helped his marketability. Diles and Cody are solid starters who could be back if the price is right. Butler made four starts in place of suspended OLT Duane Brown and could try to leverage that experience into more money and a better opportunity. Ward could be back, but as a backup. He might get more playing time elsewhere.
Potential FAs: RB Joseph Addai (5), S Melvin Bullitt (4), DT Keyunta Dawson (4), DT Eric Foster (3), CB Aaron Francisco (6), OLB Tyjuan Hagler (5), RB Mike Hart (3), DT Antonio Johnson (4), OT Charlie Johnson (5), QB Peyton Manning (13), DT Daniel Muir (4), OLB Clint Session (4), S Jamie Silva (3), PK Adam Vinatieri (15).
Analysis: The Colts' No. 1 priority in free agency will be constructing a deal that makes Manning, a four-time league MVP, the highest-paid player in NFL history. Jim Irsay has said repeatedly that a deal will get done and that he wants Manning to retire a Colt, but the owner has not ruled out the possibility of using the franchise tag, if necessary. Irsay was prepared to make an offer during the club's off week, but Manning and his agent, Tom Condon, wanted to wait until after the season. Patriots QB Tom Brady laid the framework for Manning's deal by signing a four-year, $72 million extension, including $48.5 million guaranteed, in September. Once a deal with Manning is in place, the Colts will turn their attention toward re-signing Addai, who's an integral part of the offense. The club would love to bring back the do-it-all RB if it can do it within the constraints of the budget. Vinatieri and Charlie Johnson might be the next priorities. In an ideal world, they both would be re-signed, but realistically, they could be allowed to test the waters given the simple fact there will be only so much money to go around.
Potential FAs: CB Tyron Brackenridge (3), LS Jeremy Cain (5), S Sean Considine (6), OLB Justin Durant (4), QB Trent Edwards (4), WR Jason Hill (4), CB David Jones (4), LB Freddy Keiaho (5), TE Marcedes Lewis (5), QB Luke McCown (6), ILB Kirk Morrison (5), P Adam Podlesh (4), WR Mike Sims-Walker (4), DE Bryan Smith (2), OT Adam Terry (6), CB Terrence Wheatley (3), OT Guy Whimper (5).
Analysis: The Jaguars were one of the more surprising spenders in free agency in 2009, signing DE Aaron Kampman and special-teams ace Kassim Osgood to multiyear deals within 48 hours of them hitting the market. But don't expect GM Gene Smith to go hog wild this offseason. Kampman and Osgood made sense because they were considered outstanding bargains, and the Jaguars are very much bargain shoppers given their financial limitations. The one no-brainer on this year's list is Lewis, who picked the perfect time for a breakout season. Lewis fits Smith's mold of hardworking, team-first players, and he almost certainly will be rewarded for his impressive season. The Jaguars could face tough decisions with Morrison and Durant. Morrison has been disappointing since coming over from Oakland in a Draft Day trade last April, and he will need a very strong second half to prove that he is worth a multiyear investment. Durant has been decent on the weak side but doesn't make as many plays as he should. FS Sean Considine is a solid special-teamer and provides depth at the safety position, but he could be viewed as expendable.
Potential FAs: DE Jason Babin (7), DE Dave Ball (6), DE Jacob Ford (4), OLB Colin Allred (3), OLB Patrick Bailey (3), QB Kerry Collins (16), DE Marques Douglas (10), FB Ahmard Hall (5), OG Leroy Harris (4), CB Roderick Hood (8), P Brett Kern (3), WR Randy Moss (13), S Donnie Nickey (8), OT Michael Otto (3), TE Bo Scaife (6), OLB Tim Shaw (3), OLB David Thornton (9), ILB Stephen Tulloch (5).
Analysis: The Titans prefer building through the draft, and it never is a surprise if they sit out the first wave of free agency. As far as their own free agents go, much intrigue surrounds whether they will bring back Moss, whom they claimed off waivers in November. How he plays in the final half of the season will determine the degree of the Titans' interest, as well as that of other clubs. Babin and Ball have had breakout seasons rushing the passer; the team likely wants to bring both back, as well as Ford. Depth at defensive end is very important for the Titans, who want their ends rushing upfield with abandon. If Collins wants to return as a backup, the Titans would be amenable to bringing him back. Hall is a very good blocker and a key part of the running game; Tennessee likely will work to bring him back. Harris can play multiple positions along the line and has shown potential. Expect the Titans to retain him. Scaife is a reliable pass catcher, but the Titans may want to give 2009 third-round pick Jared Cook a bigger role. Tulloch is having the best season of his career and seems likely to be back. He is tough, instinctive and smart.